In 2012 the Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm, which included the Star Wars franchise. Not only did they inherit a huge existing fan base, they were positioned to generate interest from people who love all things Disney. With the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens in December 2015, there is a renewed interest in the inter-galactic space adventure known as Star Wars.
Released in 1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was projected to be a “Flop”, according to Creator and Director George Lucas and many of his industry peers. The only person who believed it would be a success was Steven Spielberg, who would later work with Lucas on the Indiana Jones films. There were less than forty theatres that agreed to show the film for the May 25, 1977 release date. Lucas had so little faith in the film that he did not even attend the films premiere. The first week of box office earnings topped out at $2,048,249 which appeared to validate Lucas’ prediction. But his fears were short lived. By the end of 1977 the film had grossed $220,000,000 in the US alone, and is the only film in the Star Wars franchise to be nominated for an Academy Award: Best Film. He could never have foreseen the cultural icon that Star Wars would become. One that transcends generations and even pop culture.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back was released June 20th, 1980 after many hurdles that Lucas faced during filming. Despite a director and a producer who were lackluster at best, a dismal rough cut, multiple re-shoots, and facing financial ruin, the film was a huge critical and commercial success. One of George Lucas goals in doing a Star Wars sequel was to become financially independent from Hollywood, and this film certainly served its purpose.
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi; released May 25th, 1983. Originally to be titled “Revenge of the Jedi” the producers thought Jedi wouldn’t seek revenge, being so righteous and all. Some posters and theater stand-ups were made early, but pulled very soon as the title changed names. This much anticipated conclusion to the trilogy proved to be everything the fans craved. From sweeping space battles to the death bed confession of Darth Vader, this is personally my favorite film to date.
With the success of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi it was evident that Star Wars had found its place in the world.
In 1997 Lucasfilm released a “Special Edition” trilogy to theatres that coincided with “A New Hope’s” 20th anniversary. Although there were fans who were not happy with some of the changes for the re-release, this did not affect the box office numbers:
- Episode IV: A New Hope / Theatre Run Feb. 97 – May 97 $460,935,665
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back / Theatre Run Feb. 97 – June 97 $290,475,067
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi / Theatre Run April 97 – June 97 $309,125,409
The re-release of these classics effectively set the tone for the next set of films, or prequels, the first of which was Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was arguably one of the most anticipated films of the 90’s. During the first week of the first trailer’s release, many theatres reported up to 75% of their audiences paying full price for a movie, then walking out after the Star Wars: Episode I trailer was shown. Opening week of the May 19, 1999 release proved that we were ready for an epic origin story, which was evidenced by the more than $100,000,000 in ticket sales. However, excitement quickly turned to disgust for many fans due to the films controversial character; Jar-Jar Binks. “Controversial?” Yes, controversial. While his character was developed to appeal to kids and the non-nerd, much of the interaction was purely laughable. The Binks character is a large reason why The Phantom Menace is regarded, by many fans, as the worst Star Wars film to date. But with $474,544,677 in gross box office sales, even Jar-Jar could not stop it from being the highest earning Star Wars film to that point.
Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released on May 16, 2002. Just like The Empire Strikes Back, it is a transitional film. They both have important back story and help shed light on the struggle between good and evil. Although Episode II did not achieve the success that “Empire” did, it was still entertaining and closer to what we would expect from a Star Wars film. Especially the anticipation of Anakins’ turn to the dark side. By the end of the movie audiences were ready for the reveal of Darth Vader……
But they would have to wait until Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, released May 19, 2005. This is the darkest film in the entire Star Wars franchise. With Anakins’ path leading him deeper and deeper into the realm of the Dark Side of the Force, the audience witnesses the “Chosen One” slaughter younglings and ultimately cost Padme her life. Chancellor Palpatine is revealed to be the Emperor, and orders the clone troopers to turn on the Jedi. To be concluded with one of the most chilling climactic reveals in cinematic history.
Now that Episode VII has been out for several months and smashed many box office records, it will be interesting to see how this franchise grows and evolves as they make new films and build the new Star Wars Lands at Disney World and Disneyland.